Few people visiting Galway will fail to notice the impressive Webworks Galway building (pictured above) just of Eyre Square. The building is part of a huge development plan announced by the Irish government & Enterprise Ireland in May 2000. The plan originally encompassed the building of similar incubators in 10 towns & cities across Ireland and was targeted at digital media, electronic business, health sciences, software and telecommunications businesses & start-ups.
There would be 3 large Webworks incubators and 7 smaller ones.
The three centres in Galway, Cork and Limerick will be 40,000 square feet in size each and cost between £10m and £15m to develop.
The seven smaller operation in regional towns are expected to be 10,000 square feet.
I recently contacted the Webworks Galway to enquire about using it as a venue for CrisisCamp Ireland. I knew from prior contact that quite a few of the offices were vacant so I was hoping to use some of the larger ones and the open/public spaces to accommodate this event. My idea was that an event such as Crisiscamp might be a good fit for Webworks and might lead to more interest in the vacant offices. Their website gives the distinct impression that this is an Enterprise Ireland owned/run facility both because it is plastered in Enterprise Ireland logos and by the text used:
Enterprise Ireland Webworks Galway is a joint initiative between McNamara Construction, Enterprise Ireland and Galway City Council. Enterprise Ireland Webworks projects are designed to provide premium enterprise space for internationally traded service companies in a technologically superior building located in the heart of the city.
I was hence very surprised to get a call from an Enterprise Ireland representative telling me that they had nothing to do with the running of the building and that I should contact a local real estate agent who was managing the building. I was also told that this agency would more than likely have no interest in accommodating 1 day events. To be honest I was amazed by the dismissive attitude. Here is a prominent & expensive building, paid for with public funding, sitting mostly empty and there seemed to be no effort to monetize the asset. It was then that I recalled reading something about Webworks Cork being in a similar situation. Time to do some digging….
It soon turned out that most of the webworks buildings were built in a partnership between Enterprise Ireland and McNamara Construction (Galway Webworks) and Howard Holdings (Cork Webworks). Presume the plan was for the other 8 to be built under similar partnerships. Enterprise Ireland invested €4.36 million in Webworks Galway & €3.82 million in Webworks Cork. The occupancy levels are shockingly low:
Throughout its existence, the building has remained largely empty. According to its website, just 17 out if its 36 units are occupied. However, Enterprise Ireland has said the building occupancy is about 35% — suggesting a lower figure of around 13 units.
The Galway Webworks, opened in 2009, fares much worse with just seven out of its 42 units occupied.
Some follow-up research showed that Webworks Galway currently only has 2 paying tenants at the moment. One of these tenants stated that Enterprise Ireland had a 40% stakeholding in the building but pulled out 6 months or so ago when the other 60% (owned by McNamara Construction) became part of NAMA. The management of the building was contracted out to a third-party who shortly afterwards went into receivership and now all enquiries are handled by DTZ Sherry Fitzgerald. A property firm like that would obviously have no interest in promoting or stimulating local entrepreneurship. The listing on their website doesn’t exactly go overboard in trying to sell the property. Another stumbling block to these buildings being used to their full potential lies in the requirements for potential tenants as well as the high rents.
It is understood that the lack of smaller technology- based operations in the Webworks buildings is, in large part, due to high rents and other service charges, putting its offices out of the price range of most SMEs.
Apparently the Cork Webworks building was up for sale some time but appears to have been taken of the market. There is an interesting discussion on it on Boards.ie. I couldn’t find any information on the other proposed webworks buildings.
It is truly amazing that facilities like these are lying unused. They could be put to good use providing low-cost or free accommodation for start-up companies allowing them to bring the overheads of starting up down and hence stimulating new business. You would expect the Irish government to at least attempt to maximise the use of their assets. A start-up incubator along the lines of what is discussed here would cost very little and have substantial realistic potential.
I know more than a few people who would be willing to invest time in getting such an initiative of the ground and keeping it going. I’m one of them.
Anyone who is interested in trying to do something about this facility being wasted please put a comment on this post with your ideas and I will get back to you.